Welcome to our Ten Book Challenge where our favorite authors share their “Book-It List”—a book bucket list with 10 of their most beloved and memorable reads—from the books with their favorite covers and best opening lines, to the reads they gift and the bookstores they frequent. This is a peek into your favorite authors’ perfect bowl of literary comfort food. We hope you discover something delicious!
The Personal Librarian by co-author team Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is not your everyday historical fiction novel. It gives a woman the place in history she deserves, spotlighting her luminous career and highlighting her immense achievements, while also sharing her secret and personal inner world in a setting that would have been hostile towards her if her identity was revealed.
And the woman in question is Belle de Costa Greene. The true story behind The Personal Librarian: Hired by J.P. Morgan in 1905 to serve as his personal librarian, Belle was the creator of the Morgan Library’s famous manuscript collection, and she became one of the most powerful people in the art world, and one of history’s most prominent librarians.
But Belle was hiding a secret: she was shielding her Black identity and “passing” for white.
In its glowing starred review, Booklist said, “Every element of this blockbuster historical novel is compelling and revelatory, beginning with the bedazzling protagonist based with awestruck care on Belle da Costa Greene. . . Benedict and Murray do splendidly right by Belle in this captivating and profoundly enlightening portrayal.” Even while writing this novel, Benedict and Murray found themselves profoundly changed by Belle’s story. As they researched, edited, and discussed the issues of Belle’s time, they forged a friendship both women describe as transformative.
Read on to see the books that influenced author Marie Benedict in her life most. Want more? Read our exclusive interview with Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray about The Personal Librarian >>
The Book . . .
I last bought/am currently reading: I just finished and adored American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson.
I recommend to everyone: I love Kate Atkinson’s Time After Time, The Hours by Michael Cunningham, Possession by A.S. Byatt, and anything by David Mitchell or Margaret Atwood, and I will tell anyone who will listen.
That was my favorite to read last year, and why: This is hard because I’ve been fortunate to have early reads of so many fantastic works of historical fiction, as well as a host of incredible novels. I don’t think I could pick just one, particularly since different novels filled different purposes during this difficult year.
Whose author I would love to have lunch with: Hands down, I’d love to lunch with Margaret Atwood, although I’d be incredibly intimidated.
That made me realize language had power: Again, this is a challenging question, but if I had to select just one, I suppose I’d select one of the reads that affected me early on: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
I’d like to see adapted to the screen: If I’m being honest, I’d love to see The Personal Librarian made into a film!
That made me laugh out loud—or cry—while reading it: At certain parts of The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I had to put the book down.
That has the most gorgeous cover: This is so challenging, but if I had to pick the most memorable, I’d say The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
With the best opening line: It would be hard to beat the first line of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for its tone: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Bookstore that I frequent/is my favorite: I love Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, my local independent bookstore.
Want more? Read our exclusive interview with Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray about The Personal Librarian >>